Change and continuity in thesis and dissertation writing : The evolution of an academic genre

Research output: Journal Publications and Reviews (RGC: 21, 22, 62)21_Publication in refereed journalpeer-review

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Original languageEnglish
Article number100910
Journal / PublicationJournal of English for Academic Purposes
Online published16 Aug 2020
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2020
Externally publishedYes


This paper examines the emergence of the doctoral thesis as a research genre and traces the development of thesis types and their macrostructures over time. We do this by examining the first doctorates that were awarded in English-medium universities and comparing them with doctorates that have been awarded more recently at the same universities. The data on which the study is based is a set of 100 PhDs. The study found there was change in Science-based doctorates where some of the early PhDs were written in ways that were less recognisable compared with how they are written today. There was continuity, however, in Humanities doctorates in that both the early and recent theses were all topic-based in a way that continues through to today. There was, in addition, a preference for particular thesis types at some of the institutions in particular areas of study. The findings contribute to our understanding of research genres and have implications for how we teach thesis and dissertation writing in different areas of study as well as what we advise students are appropriate choices to make as they are writing their theses and dissertations. The study is also of relevance to people working in the area of higher education more broadly and especially those with an interest in doctoral writing.

Research Area(s)

  • Advanced academic literacies, Doctoral education, Thesis and dissertation writing, Thesis types